The War of the Termite

The War of the Termite

La guerra de las termitas

Lorena Marrón

For the multidisciplinary Mexican artist Emilio Chapela, the communication networks, as well as the search engines, cybernetic tools, and digital programs, are ideal spaces in which to encounter society’s miscalculations, irregularities, and absurdities.

 In this, his first solo exhibition at Gallery 11 x 7, Chapela shows us –through digital drawings, an installation and a video– the imprecisions that lurk hidden behind every digital transaction, the defects that every plan supposes.

In The War of the Termites the viewer will find, from the outset, a series of hybrid objects: digital drawings meticulously executed by the artist to simulate the effect of a real material (a wooden panel), each one these drawings printed on a sheet of 315 grams made completely out of wood. Meaning that the effect of the wood is printed on a derivative of the wood itself, and both because of this and because of the veracity of the drawing strokes, the artificiality of these objects is not obvious from a distance. Indeed, at first sight it would seem that Chapela had performed an act of appropriation or produced a sort of ready-made. It is only when we come closer –and see these objects in detail– that we become aware of their artificiality. The “woods” do not give off their particular aroma nor does the porousness of their texture appear anywhere. The optical illusion that these surfaces provoke can take us back to the Op art of the seventies, but Chapela goes far beyond the seduction of tromp d’oeil: whereas on the surfaces of these pieces the trickery is visible, in the medium of each of them the organic element to which the representation refers subsists. This play of contrasts –between the organic and the artificial– is a good starting point for beginning to dialogue with The War of the Termites, since such play permeates the entire exhibition.

In 2007 Chapela made Crumpled Paper, a series of drawings –by hand– in which he followed and marked all the lines produced on a sheet of paper after it had been crumpled by hand and squeezed into a little ball. Here the artist presents a variation on this work: a series of new drawings that imitate these exercises, only now from the computer. That is to say: what we see here are drawings in which it seems that the paper was crumpled and then smoothed out, but in reality the “crumplings” that appear on these sheets are digital strokes and not three-dimensional folds. These drawings are also hybrid objects: the simulacrum of a sheet of paper is printed over a sheet of paper. This series might remind us of Sol LeWitt and his minimalist drawings. But Chapela, unlike LeWitt –who drew following a set of inviolable rules–, dares to improvise a little and, instead of following an order, seeks to imitate chance.

In these series Chapela does not aim to produce a new version of the “real” but rather to place at risk the idea of reality we’ve constructed for ourselves. That intention also pervades the work Hexágono #8482, Anaquel #5 [Hexagon #8482, Shelf #5]: a collection of 32 wooden “books” arranged along a shelf, which also, to the viewer’s astonishment, form part of this constellation of simulacra. Chapela’s books are bereft of all utilitarian value: they are neither consumer goods nor items for leisure, nor is there any chance of their becoming either. They may be mock-ups of books that will never reach their final destination, their telos: to be read. If the project of modernity has told us over and over again that there exists an aim and an end-point and that everything advances toward somewhere, Chapela scorns such discourse and accordingly destabilizes any notion of “reality.”

The last piece is a video in loop that bears the show’s title. Here Chapela imitates the “noise” or “static” effect that appears on the television when there is no signal through a high-speed sequence of images of hundreds of woods. In other languages (Romanian, Swedish, Hungarian, and Danish, for instance) this static is known as the “war of the ants.” In this instance, Chapela has metaphorically placed in combat mode not ants but termites (which, we must remember, feed on cellulose, a component both of paper and wood, the two materials presented in this exhibition).

All the pieces that make up The War of the Termites –the simulated static, the scentless, textureless woods, the crumpled yet fold-less papers– force us to rethink the concept of reality and to conceive the world as Jean Baudrillard imagined it starting in the 1970s: a world that challenges the discourse of the real and “aspires to the status of illusion, restoring the non-veracity of facts, the non-signification of the world, advancing the opposite hypothesis that there is nothing rather than something.”


[1] Hemos visto este interés en Chapela en piezas como Language (2007) y en According to Google (2008).

[2] Baudrillard, Jean. El crimen perfecto. Barcelona: Anagrama, 1996.